'Devastating impact on education': Back-to-school costs soar

Timmi Boughner 11(left) and Brandon Boughner 12 (right) at the Mount Druitt Hub. Both children will paticipate in the Smith Family ran Learning Club which begins in term 2. Mount Druitt, Sydney. 19th January, 2018. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Timmi Boughner 11(left) and Brandon Boughner 12 (right) at the Mount Druitt Hub. Both children will paticipate in the Smith Family ran Learning Club which begins in term 2. Mount Druitt, Sydney. 19th January, 2018. Photo: Kate Geraghty

The cost of preparing a child for a new school year may come as a shock for many families, but is especially difficult for those facing financial hardship.

For Doonside mother-of-seven Donna West, caring full-time for her disabled daughter, Sylvia, and facing health issues of her own, means her family struggle to make ends meet.

Until October 2016, when her two youngest, Brandon, 12 and Timmi Boughner, 11, came onto The Smith Family's Learning for Life sponsorship program, Ms West would struggle to get them everything they needed for school.

"Without it, they would be getting secondhand uniforms, wearing cheap shoes and all the rest of it," she said.

"With the scholarship, you can go out and get them shoes that will last a year instead of two to three months, so it benefits in a lot of ways," she said.

Ms West says the back-to-school shop has been "a lot dearer" this year as Brandon enters year 7, having already spent close to $1500 before either child has even stepped through the school gate.

To send just one child to primary school is costing Australian parents upwards of $2000 per year, meaning many disadvantaged kids are going without, according to The Smith Family.

"If [students] don't have the right uniform, or they don't have all the right school supplies or can't participate in excursions, they can feel like they don't fit in and don't want to be there," said Annette Young, acting chief executive of The Smith Family.

"It can have a really devastating impact on the child's education."

Ms Young says the $2000 figure considers the cost of uniforms, shoes, bags, lunches, books, stationery items and basic IT equipment among other things, based on prices of generic brands from low-cost national retailers.

As the new school year rolls in, The Smith Family have identified over 4000 students nationwide, more than 1000 of whom live in NSW, in urgent need of sponsorships to help them get back to and stay at school.

"Every completed year of schooling adds to an improved life outcome, for example, in relation to employment and their ability to earn an income and support themselves," Ms Young said.

Ms Young says there are three elements to the sponsorship program - financial support to fund school supplies and resources, access to a community-based coordinator for guidance, as well as out of school mentoring and tutoring programs.

"It's just $1.60 a day, less than a cup of coffee, to sponsor a child through The Smith Family," she said.

In the last 5 years, The Smith Family's sponsorship program has helped more than 8500 Australian students from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds to finish year 12.

"Support for these students needs to start at an early age and be ongoing, that's why The Smith Family's long-term targeted approach throughout a child's education journey is so effective," Ms Young said.

But sponsorship is not the only way to support disadvantaged children with their education, the charity is currently seeking volunteers for their mentoring and tutoring programs across the country, Ms Young says.

"They are a great way to help kids at school who might be struggling with particular areas of the curriculum," she said.

As for Brandon and Timmi Boughner, they are both set to participate in The Smith Family's student2student program this year for extra support with their reading and will also join a Learning Club to help with their homework.

"I'm really pleased and happy with how [The Smith Family] do things and how they're out there to help children that cannot get the schooling that their parents can't afford," Ms West said.

To sponsor a disadvantaged Australian child with The Smith Family, visit https://www.thesmithfamily.com.au/sponsor.

This story 'Devastating impact on education': Back-to-school costs soar first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.